But firstly, what does real-time passenger information really mean? ‘Real time’ is such a misused term; it’s essential to compare like with like, share a common method of measurement, and recognise the direct bearing this has on customer experience. With less than two minutes between some stations, updated information has to be delivered immediately, otherwise platform numbers and onward connection information can quickly become out of date.
The engineers at KeTech truly believe incorrect information is worse than no information. Working with TOCs and passenger focus groups, the company is able to understand the direct relationship between consistent, relevant passenger information delivered in real time and positive customer experience.
So when KeTech refers to ‘real-time passenger information, it is confident that its systems are informing passengers within seconds of changing information. This is where it believes the bar should be set.
Traditional PIS systems operate on a fixed database of routes, with inputs from door contacts, wheel count, and in some cases GPS in order to establish the information to be displayed at a particular location.
These systems are rigid in their functionality by design; they typically do not allow for deviations from a fixed route database. If a train re-routes during disruption or doors open unexpectedly, for example, incorrect information will be given from that point onwards unless the system is disabled for the rest of the journey.
These scenarios happen all too frequently and are a significant cause of frustration and complaint from passengers. But this is all about to change.
In a landmark project, KeTech has collaborated with Axion Technologies to set a new benchmark by providing a truly real-time and intelligently integrated PIS system to TransPennine Express for its Siemens 185 fleet.
The system provides fully Darwin connected information, with typical latency of only 10 seconds from a change of signalling information to display on the train. Low latency is essential in order to provide key travel information such as next station departures and platform numbers – this vital information can even change on the approach to stations,
so it needs to be updated very quickly. If for any reason communication to the train fails, the system intelligently manages fallback to ensure that incorrect information is not displayed to passengers.
KeTech’s system deals with it all, dynamically taking over the control of the PIS and not only providing the right information at the right time, but also working out what and where to display it. By integrating into the PIS systems, KeTech can ensure that even in the worst-case scenario (where there are no comms or no real-time information from Darwin) passengers will never have less information than with legacy systems.
The system includes a comprehensive PIS simulator to allow TOCs to programme and preview content for entire routes. The simulator plays back all display and PA content for each route, allowing configuration to be checked and amended before being rolled out to fleets.
By repurposing legacy hardware, alongside the addition of new system controllers and 21.5” TFT displays, KeTech is able to provide real-time and enhanced information to passengers at a fraction of the cost of buying a replacement PIS. That said, there are no other systems currently available with this level of functionality.
But this is just the beginning. The company has also proven the capability to retrofit any train class with its own intelligent information system and enable third-party PIS systems. This means that an operator can now centrally manage the distribution of highly relevant, accurate and timely information to customers in a consistent manner across multiple train fleets – ensuring passengers can keep moving even during that dreaded five-o’-clock rush.
Published in RTM Aug/Sept 2018 edition